This fall marks 40 years since Parnelli Jones and George Follmer turned off the engines in their Boss 302 Mustangs after winning the 1970 Sports Car Club of America Trans-Am professional road racing series. It was the culmination of the Ford Motor Company’s Total Performance Program of the ’60s, where the company competed in and won every major national and international motorsports contest. It is not the end of this story as today enthusiasts enjoy their1970 Boss 302 Mustangs in a number of ways.
The Boss 302 program is a tribute to Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen’s philosophy, “Build what we race and race what we build!” Bunkie Knudsen was a true car guy and engineer who when he took over as General Manager of Pontiac Motor Division in 1956 and emphatically stated, “You can sell an old man a young man’s car, you cannot sell an old man’s car to a young man.” Knudsen with his handpicked team transformed Pontiac into the third selling brand behind Chevrolet and Ford by injecting his philosophy in the division’s products. The result was the “Tin Indians” dominated NASCAR and NHRA as well as the youth market. After being promoted to the lead Chevrolet Division, his enthusiasm for fun, youth-oriented automobiles also created an atmosphere for engineers like Vince Piggins and stylists like Larry Shinoda to create high-performance option packages like the Camaro Z-28. Shinoda was a creative genius who produced the 1963 Corvette Split window coupe and the Mako Shark. He also was involved in a big way in designing Bruce McLaren’s all conquering SCCA Can-Am sports racing cars. One of Shinoda’s last assignments at GM was the design of the D-80 cold air induction hood for the 1969 Camaro.
After losing a power struggle for the Presidency of General Motors to Ed Cole, Knudsen left GM and was offered the Presidency of Ford Motor Company by Henry Ford II, who expected to be appointed to Hubert Humphrey’s cabinet should the latter win the 1968 Presidential election.
When he moved to Dearborn, Bunkie Knudsen was adamant about his commitment to factory-backed motorsports. Unlike GM who was supposed to be out of racing, Ford was not and Knudsen was in his element.
Naturally upon his arrival at Ford, Knudsen also brought along a number of his people from GM, including Larry Shinoda. Larry was put in charge of Ford’s Special Design Center where he worked some very talented stylists, Bill Shannon, Dick Petit, Harvey Winn and Ken Dowd. The team worked closely with the Special Vehicles, (racing) engineers like Chuck Mountain, Ed Hall and Bill Holbrook.
With the team in place they were faced with a huge challenge. After winning the SCCA Trans-Am Championship in 1966 and 1967, Ford lost the 1968 title to the Penske Racing prepared Z-28 Camaros. The Shelby Racing prepared Mustangs could out handle and out break and when they built the new 302 Tunnel Port engines, could out run the Z-28s. Problem was Ford insisted the engines be built by the Cleveland engine plant, an insane way to build racing engines. As a result they blew over 60 engines during the course of the season and lost the title to Chevrolet. Shelby Racing Trans-Am Team Manager Lew Spenser told me years later: “The team can change six engines during the two-day weekend, but eight engine changes where out of the question as the team was physically not able to change that many engines in the required time period.”
The loss of the Trans-Am championship did not go down well at Ford World Headquarters. After dominating motorsports for the last five years, Ford Mustang teams had been beaten and that was a situation that had to be rectified at all costs. In the ’60s; “Winning on Sunday, selling on Monday” was a way of life at Ford, by 1969 Mustang had many competitors in the market place and a winning image was not an option.
Upon his arrival in Dearborn, Bunkie Knudsen was brimming with performance ideas that would beat his former bosses at GM. He wanted cars that were winners on the track and street versions that were just as unbeatable on the street. The first carline to receive his attention was Mustang. Although the 1969 line was fairly well set by the time he arrived, Knudsen wanted changes and assigned Larry Shinoda the task of enhancing the styling. Forever the engineer, Knudsen told his people that he wanted the best–handling street car that had ever rolled out of an assembly plant, period! The challenge was assigned to Howard Freers and his group of chassis engineers.
At the time the styling and chassis work was beginning, Ford engineers were working on a new engine that would be a modified version of the ill-fated Tunnel Port 302. Fired up by Knudsen’s interest and support the three groups of Ford engineers and designers worked together to produce what many people have called the best Mustang built during the factory Trans-Am Series era; The Boss 302.
Boss 302 Styling
When Larry Shinoda arrived at the Ford Studios, the 1969 Mustang was pretty well set. The car had been restyled and had grown from its original dimensions, the chassis had been upgraded and the interior had been revised in a more luxurious manner. Shinoda’s main objective was to create a styling package for Knudsen’s more road race oriented Mustang. One big change from previous Trans-Am Group II coupe Mustangs was his selection of the 1969 Sportsroof model. From his early GM days, Shinoda had a deep interest in aerodynamics, especially air management. With this in mind, he cleaned up the Mustang’s exterior, eliminating the sail mounted badges and fake air intakes, knowing that real enthusiasts would appreciate the lack of non functional items. He was correct and even though the tooling costs were considered high, for a low-production car, Bunkie Knudsen backed him to the hilt. In 1969 not much was known about spoilers or aerodynamic down force. Some race cars had them, but not very many street cars. Larry Shinoda pioneered the use of the front and rear spoilers on the 1969 Boss 302. Even though he ran into a lot of flack from Ford executives, he kept on and finally prevailed. The final styling touch was the rear sports slats for the sportsroof rear window. Another unique touch was the use of black out flat black paint on the hood. First seen in 1967 on Shelby American’s Trans-Am Series Champion Terlingua Racing Team Mustang, Ford covered the hood of the street Boss 302 as well as the grille panel and outboard headlights with the flat black treatment. The top of the decklid and rear valence panel also received the treatment.
The only thing missing for the new Mustang was a name. Some people came up with Sports Racing Sedan or SR-2 for short. This was not what Shinoda had in mind. He was in-tune with the youth market and knew in California the word Boss meant something very cool and up to date. He had three goals for the name of the car; a special identity for the package, a name that would connect with the youth market and represent the Mustang’s high performance purpose. Larry Shinoda felt the name “Boss” achieved all these objectives. He ran into the same stogy resistance he had with the spoilers as it took a lot of explaining of what Boss meant. After some very persuasive meetings, the Ford folks understood what he meant and got with the program. Soon the Boss 302 and “C” stripes were approved.
Boss 302 Suspension
At the same time the car’s styling was being developed, Ford engineers were hard at work designing a race-type suspension that would work both on the track and on the street. In August 1968 Kar Kraft Engineering, Ford Motor Company’s specialty car builder located in Brighton, about 30 miles west of Dearborn was hard at work developing a prototype. It was approved and the now the development of the Boss 302 suspension would be the responsibility of Ford’s Light Vehicle Powertrain Development Department. Howard Freers was under orders from Knudsen to; “build absolutely the best handling street car available on the American market!” Freers turned the task to his Chief Ride and Handling Engineer, Matt Donner. Matt was a real hands-on engineer and had overseen suspension development for the Mustang and Cougar. He also was involved with Mustang race car suspensions. Donner wasted little time testing all the chassis components and came up with the fastest Mustang ever to turn a wheel on the Ford Dearborn test track. He also designed a front spindle that could withstand the Boss’ increased cornering loads. The new Goodyear F60x15 tires put so much strain on the chassis that the control arms would pull free. Matt Donner had a fix for this as he added metal plates that wrapped around and strengthened the shock towers. A larger sway bar was also part of the package. The front fenders had re-rolled upper wheel arches to clear the large F60 tires.
Boss 302 Engine
Among the many problems with the 1968 Tunnel Port engines was that they were not sold to the public, a real problem with the Sports Car Club of America, as the Trans-Am Series was supposed to be based on regular production. The Tunnel Ports abysmal showing probably stopped the SCCA from any sanctions, but this was not going to be the case in 1969. The rules were very clear; each manufacturer had to build 1,000 of the model they wanted to race in the Trans-Am Series, no exceptions.
Faced with these facts the Ford engineers came up with a brilliant solution. They would build an engine with the new canted valve Cleveland heads bolted to the 302 four-bolt main journaled block, with a forged crankshaft used with the Tunnel Port. On top of an aluminum intake was a 780cfm Holley carb complete with a special camshaft. Advertised horsepower was 290, same as the Z-28, the conservative rating was so the insurance companies did not hammer future owners with punitive rates.
The Boss 302 met all of Bunkie Knudsen’s criteria and was hailed by the motoring press as the best handling Mustang ever to come out of Dearborn. Ford built a total of 1,628 1969 Boss 302 Mustangs.
1969 Boss 302 Race Cars
For the 1969 season there was not any doubt of Ford Motor Company’s intension of taking back the Trans-Am championship. Two fully financed teams, one for Carroll Shelby, the other for Bud Moore were each given three Boss 302s built by Kar Kraft. The teams were responsible for preparing the cars building the engines and sorting out the Mustangs. The Roger Penske Z-28s, with lots of GM engineering assistance, in spite of the company’s racing ban, would return as would the factory backed American Motors Javelins to the Trans-Am Series.
It is interesting to note that during engine testing conducted in the fall of 1968 at Riverside by Shelby Racing, three engines were tested and evaluated in the 1968 Shelby Trans-Am Mustangs.
The three engines were; the Tunnel Port 302, Gurney Westlake Eagle 302 with Weber carbs and the new Engine & Foundry Boss 302. As expected the Mustang when equipped with the Gurney Westlake heads was fastest, the Boss 302 second and the Tunnel Port last. Since there was not any way the 302 engines, with Gurney heads could be built in the required numbers for the street, the Boss was selected.
The end result was the Boss 302s race engines were fitted with two 1050 cfm Holley Dominators that produced around 450 horsepower.
Driver lineup was impressive with Parnelli Jones and George Follmer driving the Bud Moore entries and Peter Revson and Horst Kwech behind the wheel of the Shelby Racing Mustangs.
The season started well enough for Ford as the Bud Moore Boss Mustangs won the opener at Michigan. Sam Posey subbing for Revson who was racing in the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend won in a Shelby Racing Mustang at Lime Rock. I attended the race and was so excited the Shelby car won. What I did not know that it would be the last team victory for Shelby American for the Ford Motor Company.
By the time the series headed for St. Jovite, Canada the Mustangs had a lead over Camaro Z-28. Try as they might the Penske Racing team could not catch the Mustangs that were clearly the faster cars, especially the Bud Moore entries. An interesting battle was underway between Parnelli and Mark Donohue, Penske’s number one driver and graduate engineer from Brown University. They were complete opposites; Parnelli Jones, a Westerner, was a product of and earned his spurs on the USAC sprint car and midget circuits. He also competed in many races at the Brickyard won the 1963 Indy 500. He was tough, smart, a heck of a race driver who gave no quarter, asked none and drove the heck out of the Mustangs.
Mark Donohue, an Easterner, grew up racing in the SCCA road racing ranks, drove Cobras and a Shelby Mustang. In 1966 and 1967 he was a member of the Ford GT team and raced at Le Mans. He was an excellent race driver who seemed aloof to many, but was very serious and worked well with Roger Penske.
When the two tangled on the race track, neither gave an inch and a season long battle ensued. It was not only Ford against Chevrolet it was Parnelli against Donohue. All this made for exceptional, exciting racing.
The Fords went south after a multi-car wreck took out the two Shelby cars and one of the Bud Moore Mustangs. After that race the Mustangs were never right no matter what the teams or the talented crew at Kar Kraft did. Lew Spencer told me that; “After the cars were wrecked, they would never hold the suspension settings after a few laps they would not handle at all.” The combination of the wrecked cars and the Firestone tires that the Bud Moore Mustangs ran, plus Penske’s well-oiled operation proved too much to overcome. Chevrolet won the final races and retained the crown. Parnelli did all he could even getting into a fender banging race long battle with Donohue at the final race at Riverside.
The racing world was shocked by an action no one saw coming; Henry Ford II who had returned to the company after Hubert Humphrey’s failed Presidential bid fired Bunkie Knudsen. Politics had gotten the best of the Boss 302’s champion. Gone too shortly thereafter was Larry Shinoda, but not before the 1970 Boss 302 was headed for the showrooms.
1970 The Championship Year
With the departure of Knudsen and the rise of Lee Iacocca, Ford’s racing budget took a turn for the worst. Iacocca cut the budget by 75 percent for 1970. Shelby got out of the racing business and the Trans-Am program would continue with two Bud Moore entries for Parnelli and Follmer. The series rule changes for 1970 were many allowing the series expansion to include factory teams from; Dodge, Plymouth, American Motors, Pontiac, Chevrolet and Ford. It would be a season like no other, before or since that time. The year 1970 marked the high watermark of the factory ponycar Battles, but what a year it would be.
The 1970 Trans-Am rules also stated that each manufacturer had to build a homologation run equal to 2,500 units or 1/250th of the 1969 production, whichever was greater, of any chassis package intended for competition in the series. As a result Ford had to build a lot more than 1,000 street cars to be legal. The company would have to build at least 6,500 street versions of the Boss 302, before any racing Boss 302 could turn a wheel on the 1970 Trans-Am circuit. No problem, Ford built 7,013 1970 Boss 302s and today enthusiasts are glad they did.
The 1970 race cars were similar to the ones that races in 1969. According to Ed Lutke’s Trans-Am car registry a total of 16 factory Trans-Am Boss 302 race cars were constructed. There were also changes in the street cars, both exterior and interior styling changes, as well as the addition of the Hurst shifter.
Even though he was no longer employed By Ford, Bunkie Knudsen’s philosophy; “ Build what we race and race what we build” was validated when Car & Driver editor, Brock Yates drove a 1970 street Boss 302 300 miles from Detroit to Watkins Glen for an SCCA regional race. Upon arrival he installed racing spark plugs, a racing exhaust, slapped race numbers on the doors. Their Boss was equipped with intermediate rain tires, chosen as a compromise between highway and street applications. They raced the Boss and finished second to a full competition 1966 Shelby built Group II Mustang. The street Boss 302 reached speeds of over 130 on the straights. After the race they reconfigured the Boss 302 back to street trim and drove home to Michigan.
For the paltry sum of $2 enthusiasts could purchase the Boss 302 Chassis Modification book that explained what parts to buy to convert a street Boss into a full race car.
For the 1970 Bud Moore turned up the heat and the Boss Mustangs were the dominant cars on the tour. They won six of the eleven races, including a wild one at Riverside where Parnelli charged back from an off course excursion to win the final race of the year. It was the end of a memorable era. On November 20, 1970 Ford canceled all factory sponsored motorsports competition and the Ford Total Performance era had come to a conclusion.
The Boss 302 factory racing ended in 1970, but not the interest or excitement for the Boss 302 race and street cars. The race cars have been restored and many raced in vintage contests, while enthusiasts have enjoyed the street cars ever since they left the dealerships.
The Boss 302 Today
Over 39 years have past since Parnelli Jones won the last Trans-Am race in route to winning the 1970 SCCA Trans-Am Championship, yet today you see Boss 302 owners and enthusiasts proudly wearing the Boss 302 championship shirts and enjoying their Boss Mustangs like never before. In recent years the value of these limited production Mustangs has grown substantially, but owners still drive the cars and enjoy them.
To find out why these cars are so much fun to own and drive we talked with three owners, to obtain their reasons for owning a Boss 302.
Ed Hockaday, a successful businessman from Houston, Texas is a Mustang enthusiast and is a current member of the Mustang Club of America Board of Directors. Ed had raced Shelby Mustangs in SCCA competition and been a crew member on some of the best IMSA GTU and GTO class Mazda RX-7 teams. A meticulous organizer, Hockaday was the event director for two outstanding Mustang Club of America National events during the ’90s, as a member of the MCA and the Mustang Club of Houston. Prior to purchasing his 1970 Boss 302, Hockaday owned two 1965 GT350s and one 1966 Shelby. When I asked Ed why he wanted a Boss 302 he stated, “I always thought the Boss 302 was a cool car and had the best styling of all the Mustangs. As a kid in Dallas I would go to Ken Ray Ford and sit in a 1970 Boss 302, the dealer would allow me to start the Boss and move it around the lot from that time on I wanted a 1970 Boss 302.”
That day came in April of 1989 when Ed took delivery of his 1970 Boss 302. The car was trucked in from Wisconsin after he purchased it form the second owner. The car was in good shape as the second owner had restored the Boss 302 to be a driver.
Not long after he bought the car a friend asked if was a member of the Mustang Club of America, he wasn’t but joined soon thereafter. From the beginning Ed worked on his Wimbledon white Boss 302 preparing it for the MCA Trailer Concours show class. The hard work paid off as Ed’s Boss earned a first place trophy at his first MCA Grand National in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the fall of 1990.
From that day on Hockaday and his Boss won just about every award in that class went to the Senior Division, were successful there and then entered the MCA Thoroughbred Class, a class where all the parts on the Mustang had to be date coded and original. No reproduction parts are allowed. Ed’s Boss became the “poster car” for the class as he won the Gold Award a prestigious class where an entrant had to achieve 98 percent of 700 points to attain the Gold Award in the Thoroughbred Class. During this period the most points taken off was six. At the end of 1995 the MCA retired the Boss 302, the only Boss 302 ever retired by the club at that time. Ed’s Boss has been featured on two covers of Mustang Monthly and the subject of number articles of Mustang publications.
Today Ed has brought the Boss 302 back to street trim, storing the original parts and enjoys driving his Mustang to Mustang Club of Houston events as well as being invited to a number of events like the Wooden Wheels and Keels Concours. “I never get tired of listening to the clatter of those solid lifters.” Ed told me recently.
Bill Cook lives in Rochester, Michigan, a Ford executive with over 33 years of service, Bill grew up in a Ford family with his Dad working at Ford Division Marketing and Sales for 43 years. While growing up Cook was able to drive just about cool Ford performance car in the ’60s and ’70s. That included all the cool Mustangs, including Boss 302s. Hired by Ford right out of college, Bill Cook wanted a Ford performance car from the Total Performance era and Bill remembers; “ My Dad brought home a Calypso Coral Boss 302 with white interior, Magnums, spoilers and slats It was a stunner! It was the first car I drove with a stick. That Boss, the clutch and I had some fun days.”
Then one day in 1982 when he lived in St Louis, Cook spotted an ad for a 1970 Boss 302, medium blue metallic , black interior, $3,800. After not trying to show a lot of interest, close inspection Bill bought the Boss 302. Bill brought the car home with its Cherry Bomb mufflers that announced his arrival. One neighbor later told Cook that he thought he heard a dump truck!
When I asked Bill why he selected a Boss 302 over any other Mustang or Ford product his answer was very interesting. “It started when I was 18 with people staring at me and asking questions about my Calypso Coral driving training car! The thought of owning a production car that draws attention and is visually similar to the SCCA Trans-Am car, makes sweet sounds were enough for me. There is nothing that sounds quite like the high revving, solid lifter Boss engine. In my opinion the 1969 and 1970 Boss Mustang sportsroofs are the two best looking Mustangs ever. When you add the Boss powertrain, suspension graphics, front and rear spoilers and the rear window sport slats, few cars surpass it.”
Bill Cook’s Boss 302 is one of only 460 1970 Boss 302s built with Medium Blue Metallic paint. Both sun visors are signed by Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. The Boss has the original numbers matching engine and transmission with a 3:91 Traction-Lok. Over the years Bill added the Magnum 500 wheels and up graded the base AM radio.
The Boss has participated in many car shows cruises and conventions during the 27 years Bill Cook has owned it. A member of the Motor City Region of the Shelby American Automobile Club, Bill’s favorite event is the Woodward Dream Cruise. He has participated in all 15. Bill told me; “to me the Woodward Dream Cruise is seven days long. My personal one-week record is 340 miles cruising Woodward Avenue. For all I know, I might hold the record for Michigan U-turns on Woodward in a single week. I will be there again in 2010. Be sure to stop by and say Hi.”
Mark Storm, National Account Executive for AutoTrader Classics, is a Detroit native now living in Northville, Michigan. As a member of the Mustang Club of America’s Mustang Owners of Southeast Michigan Region and the Motor City Region of SAAC, Mark attends shows and events like the Woodward Dream Cruise with his 1970 Boss 302. Always a Ford and Mustang enthusiast, Mark owned a number of Mustangs, like his 1969 Mach 1 prior to purchasing his Boss in November of 2001. The Boss had been a drag race car in its life before Mark and was missing a lot of the original Mustang and Ford parts when he purchased the car.
He did not care as the 1970 Boss 302 had always been his favorite Mustang. He also wanted one with a shaker hood in Grabber Orange. Being a long time Ford and Mustang enthusiast, Mark had always admired the racing success and 1970 Trans-Am Championship the Boss 302s won.
Knowing the Ford Motor Company would be celebrating the 100 year anniversary of its founding in June of 2003, Storm planned to have his Boss ready for its first showing at the four day event. The original motor was long gone, but the previous owner had installed a rebuilt Boss 302 with Aries pistons and a higher lift cam. To get the Boss running perfectly Mark took the Mustang to Paul’s High Performance in Jackson, Michigan. Paul fixed some problems and got the motor running perfectly. With the mechanically dialed in, Mark went about the business of obtaining all the necessary parts. While looking for the original rev limiter, he came across an ad on an on line “grab bag” for the rev limiter and a number of other original parts. Mark bought the parts at the starting price of $9.99! The rev limiter is worth over $500 dollars in today’s market.
During the Ford 100th Anniversary Celebration Mark was invited to the Legends of Motorsports Dinner. There he met Parnelli Jones and asked him to sit in his Boss 302 and sign the sun visor. Parnelli asked Mark what 1970 Boss 302s were going for, Mark told him and Parnelli later purchased one.
Each year Mark makes a list of things to do on his Boss 302, he told me that is part of the fun of owning his 1970 Boss 302. The magic of the Boss 302 program lives on every time each owner turns the key and fires up that amazing small block Ford engine.